China’s Wukan Village Elects Protest Leaders to Run Council

Two leaders of a protest over land grabs in a southern Chinese village were elected to replace the officials they helped oust, in a case that underscored the Communist Party’s challenges in defusing social unrest.

Lin Zulian was elected the village chief and Yang Semao his deputy, in a vote that saw thousands of people fill out ballots March 3, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. Five other seats on the village committee in Wukan, located in southern China’s Guangdong province, were to be decided yesterday, it said.

The peaceful resolution of the standoff has been lauded in state media as China’s ruling Communist Party seeks to defuse local cases of unrest without sparking broader protests ahead of a leadership transition later this year. The standoff ended after the protesters reached a deal with Guangdong leaders including regional party secretary Wang Yang, seen as a rising star among China’s top officials.

“The government has surely taken a conciliatory approach because using force will not pacify social unrest,” Xiong Wei, founder of the Beijing New Enlightenment Research Center, a nongovernmental organization that advises villages on local elections, said by phone from Wukan before the vote. “The cost will be too huge. It will trigger too much public anger.”

Protests Rise

The protests in the fishing village were sparked by disputes over land sales, allegations of election fraud and the death of a local man in police custody.

The number of protests in China including strikes and demonstrations rose to at least 180,000 in 2010, double the number four years earlier, according to Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University.

The party’s concessions over Wukan, worked out with Wang’s approval, led to speculation that it would serve as a model to end similar disputes that periodically break out across China. Regional leaders said the residents’ demands were “reasonable” and local party leaders abused power when they seized land.

While the Communist Party decided not to crack down on Wukan, it has done so in other places. The state-run Global Times reported Feb. 17 that protests in Panhe were halted after several of the protesters were arrested. A Dutch freelance journalist, Remko Tanis, who went to report on the case, told the Global Times he was beaten and ordered to leave.

Likely Candidate

Wang, who helped end the Wukan standoff, is considered a candidate for a spot on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee after the leadership transition, which will conclude early next year. Wang “scored very well” for his handling of Wukan, Li Cheng, who analyzes Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in February.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other party leaders have said repeatedly the government must address social unrest.

The Communist Party will tighten oversight of village officials and impose harsher punishments on those who violate the rules, the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said on Feb. 28, according to Xinhua.

The commission said the party will investigate officials who violate laws on land usage, committee elections and public-property management, according to Xinhua.

Almost 36,000 government officials were punished in 2011 for legal violations, the Ministry of Supervision said the same day, according to a separate Xinhua report. In a statement, the ministry quoted an official it didn’t identify as saying that corruption should be addressed “without mercy.”

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams

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